Back in the ’90s, our parents, grandparents, and family members were going through a terrible war in Somalia, when many had to flee the country to find safety. As the violence of this brutal war was getting closer to the home of my Grandmother, she left her home, along with her children, to seek shelter and find solace somewhere. Anywhere. Little did she know that the people she would soon cross paths with would find a way to meet her decades later.
It was a time of distress, not only for those who were living through this civil war but for many people who were dying from poverty and displacement. Those who had left the country struggled to get in contact with their loved ones, like my mother who went to Yemen and had absolutely no contact with family members for almost a year. During that time, my Grandmother had to find a way to keep her family safe.
That was until she came across a beautiful family, who had opened their doors and welcomed her in with kindness. They provided a place for her to stay, as her area was now a dangerous place to be in. With a roof over their heads, food, comfort, and support, my Grandmother stayed in this home until it was safe enough to make her journey to America.
Once she started making her way, she made a stop in Nairobi and said goodbye to a friend before parting ways for many years.
“May Allah make your journey easy.”
One flew to America and the other now resides in the UK, London.
This was the year I told my mum about a guy I was talking to. It was definitely a weird and daunting experience. My mother is like a friend to me and my siblings – she’s very easy to talk to, but when it comes to “boys” – all of a sudden I can’t speak. But my mother has the perfect combination of banter and seriousness. Her words always stuck with me, like when she always says: “When you guys get to that age when you start talking to boys, make sure you tell me about it. I’d love for you to be open. Please, don’t ever feel like you need to hide these things from me. It’s all natural!” It’s something I’ll be telling my kids, for sure.
She was looking forward to the day when her daughters would talk to her about things that she also experienced in her younger years. For your child to feel comfortable with you and open up about things that make them feel vulnerable, it’s a beautiful thing. And vice versa – parents need to make it easy and safe for their child to share things without living in constant fear of the response. I’m glad my mother opened those doors for us when we were growing up. Even though I knew I’d be way too shy and feel awkward to talk about certain things, deep down I knew that I was lucky to have her and that one day, I would tell her.
So that day came. It was probably a random Tuesday afternoon in the year 2019. I sat my mum down and told her about Hassan, and that it was getting serious. Of course, my mum asked a lot of questions:
“OMG, can I see a picture?”
“What does he do for a living?”
It all seemed normal, to be honest. I expected 500 questions. However, things took a very sharp turn when I answered one of her questions: I mentioned the name of my late father-in-law, May Allah rest his soul, whom I’ve never met. As I was talking, I saw a look in my mother’s face that made me stop in my tracks.
“Mum, what’s up? Do you know him?” I asked. Let’s be honest – Somalis know each other through tribes. I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time.
She had this look on her face. You know when you hear a name, or even smell something that takes you back to a distant memory.. but you just can’t pinpoint what it is that’s making you feel nostalgic? This name triggered something and my mother was eager to find out why.
“I know that name….” She said. “I’ve heard that name before. I KNOW that name but I just can’t figure this out. You know who I’m going to call? I’m calling Hooyo (her mother). You okay with that? Do you want me to call her? Can I call her??”
I could feel my mum’s eagerness to find out more about this name. “Go ahead, let’s call Ayeeyo (Grandmother),” I said. I sat there anxiously like I was waiting for my GCSE results.
My mother picked up the phone and called my Grandmother, who is currently living in America. They talk on the phone every day without fail, but on that day, she didn’t have time for small talk.
“Hooyo, I need you to answer this question: Do you know who ******* is? I have a strong feeling that you know who this man is.”
The phone was on loudspeaker and I heard her response. Instantly, my Grandmother started making dua: “May Allah bless him. May Allah reward him and his family for everything they’ve done for me….”
I was listening to all of this and my mum kept looking at me, giving me that “approved nod” and I thought: “Awww, this is cute…. but what’s happening?” I really had no idea what I was about to hear.
“I will forever be grateful for their kindness. I will never forget!”
After minutes of praises (dua), my mother continued with her investigation: “Hooyo, I knew this name sounded familiar. Tell me more!”
That’s when my Grandmother told us about the family who helped her during the civil war. The family took her in and supported her when there was no way out. That was all my mother needed to hear.
“Yes!!! I remember now! This is when I was in Yemen! I knew this name was familiar! Are you telling me that ****** was the person who took you in? MashaaAllah!”
I carried on listening. My mother finally looked at me, moved the phone away from her ear, and whispered: “She’s talking about Hassan’s father.”
I froze. Then my heart melted. I thought about those moments when Hassan’s eyes would swell up with tears as he talked about his father and how much of a great man he was. He told me how he’d wish I got to meet him, and for his father to be there when we got married. I always used to feel so sad for him. I couldn’t imagine the pain. I also thought about how much I equally would’ve loved to meet him too. All this time, neither of us knew that he did know me. He knew my family. He knew my Grandmother and he was there for her.
My mother had never physically met Hassan’s family, as she was in Yemen at the time of the war and had zero contact with loved ones. It was only because of how much my Grandmother spoke about Hassan’s father with such high regard, that just the mention of his name (May Allah reward him) was so profound and it had left a mark over the years.
I didn’t know what to do with myself. After that phone call, I messaged Hassan on WhatsApp with a bunch of gibberish. I literally smacked the keyboard and just ended up calling him instead. I told him everything and we were both speechless. It was probably one of the craziest but most beautiful moments of my life. It all started coming together after that.
Just a few months ago, Hassan’s mother said something in passing whilst talking about my Grandmother. “I remember just before coming to the UK, I saw her in Nairobi and we spoke and wished each other well before we parted ways.” The friend she said goodbye to in Nairobi was my Grandmother.
She was slowly shaking her head when she was telling me, as she pondered on how small this world is. “She told me she was heading to America and that’s when I last saw her. How is your Grandmother doing now?”
As I got to know Hassan’s family, his nieces, his brothers… I would find out more and more each time, to the point where some of them even knew my Dad’s side of the family back in the day. Hassan’s niece used to hang out with one of my cousins when they were teenagers. My aunt who used to be a midwife in Somalia, helped with the birth of a baby… who is now one of Hassan’s oldest brothers.
There’s nothing I love more than speaking to my elders about things and I advise you to do the same. Speak to your uncles, aunties, grandparents, and parents about their childhood. You never know what you can learn from it.
It just all reminds me of Allah. God. And ‘Qadr’: The Divine Decree or Predestination. Something that was written for us. The way in which people cross paths in this life and reconnect later in beautiful ways. The way you meet people and feel like you’ve met them before. This was all written, way before I was born.
I truly believe that, even though both of our families parted ways because of a brutal war years ago, maybe – just maybe, my Grandmother made a silent dua that one day she will be reunited with the same people she still prays for and thinks about till this very day. Who would’ve thought that her own granddaughter would eventually marry into that same family?
“We are set upon a path, with our fate ahead of us, as soon as we enter this world. Yet our will and our actions are meaningful because, by Allah’s will, they are the causes of changing course. Since Allah is in control of destiny, the only way to secure a good fate is to appeal to Allah through prayer, and good deeds.” [yaqeeninstitute.org]